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KIMBALL JUNCTION COMES OF AGE: IT'S GETTING A SMITH'S

To high-country shoppers, this bustling and overtly commercial intersection east of Bear Hollow remains an incomplete retail experience.

Sure, there's a factory-outlet mall, three fast-food spots, a sit-down restaurant, a Kmart, a Wal-Mart and a couple of service stations. But for the 20,000 motorists who travel the main road in and out of Park City daily, there's something sadly amiss.Kimball Junction, alas, has no grocery store.

Hope springs eternal, however, in the alpine meadows that blanket the as-yet unurbanized portions of the Snyderville Basin.

Smith's Food and Drug Centers Inc. is plodding ahead with its proposal to build a supermarket on the southeast corner of I-80 and U-224, the commercial hub of what may be the fastest-growing neighborhood in the state. It would be only the second major grocery store in the Park City area, population 15,000-plus, and in all likelihood would further fuel a local building boom.

The area, which in 1993 got its first stoplight, for years was a sleepy freeway interchange. But since the early 1990s, it has blossomed into a traffic-heavy retail center that is fast becoming a town in its own right.

It's anybody's guess when ground-breaking might occur for the 54,000-square-foot store, but the Summit County Planning Commission last month gave it the go-ahead.

The County Commission sometime in the next few weeks will likely sign off on the project; Smith's hopes to open its 143rd store (in eight Western states) by Christmas.

The company already has spent a year jumping through hoops, a process that was compounded by a political shakeup in which the County Commission went Republican and certain heads rolled in the planning office at Coalville.

Smith's has offered to change its landscaping plans and - most recently - agreed to light the parking lot in amber hues instead of blue-white ones.

"We'll do anything they need," said Shelley Thomas, a spokeswoman for Smith's corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Thomas said the pace of approval, and Summit County's quibbles over the project's aesthetics, aren't unheard of.

"It's not really atypical of many places anymore," said Thomas. "It's very typical of many towns in California, New Mexico . . . we're used to negotiating and trying to come to an agreement."

Still, the orange-light requirement isn't sitting well with the grocery chain because the adjacent Kmart has white lights on its lot.

"In our experience, it's been an incompatible combination," said Eric Low, Smith's chief real-estate executive, adding that the Planning Commission's lighting preference will be appealed to the County Commission this month.

"If they reverse that decision, it would be nice," said Low. "But we certainly don't want to hold up the whole project just because of lighting color."

Thomas said that if the company misses its November opening-date target it will shoot for early 1996, opting to avoid a store christening during the Christmas season, a time of year that requires spur-of-the-moment stocking that would be difficult for a new store to handle.

But the supermarket, she said, will go up sooner or later.

The U.S. Postal Service is putting a 13,000-square foot post office next to the site, and another 40,000 feet of retail space is opening up in the same complex. Progress was inevitable.

Thomas said Smith's interest in the area is based on careful marketing research that has sparked the corporation to expand elsewhere as well in the Rocky Mountain West, which is growing faster in population than other regions of the country.

Additional soon-to-open or recently dedicated Smith's stores are in Phoenix, Reno and Elko, Nev.

The company also has plans to expand further into California.